By Ryan Montes
On Monday, Hall of Fame head coach Don Shula, who lead the 1972 Miami Dolphins to a perfect season, died peacefully at his home early Monday morning. He was 90. He managed to do something no other coach or team has been able to do yet, and that is the only team standing with a perfect season. The ’72 Dolphins went a perfect 17-0 (playoffs included) when the Dolphins defeated the Washington Redskins 14-7 in Super Bowl VII. A year later they repeated as Super Bowl champions when they defeated the Minnesota Vikings 24-7 in Super Bowl VIII.
Before coaching, Shula was a defensive back in his early years for the Baltimore Colts from 1963 to 1969 and won an NFL Championship (pre-Super Bowl championship) in 1968. After his short six-year playing career, he began coaching for the Dolphins in 1970 and racked up many impressive, ten plus win seasons his first seven years as head coach. That carried on throughout most of his career. During the 1972 season, the Dolphins had many star players on their roster including Hall of Famers quarterback Bob Griese, fullback and Super Bowl VII MVP Larry Csonka.
When Shula retired from coaching in the NFL in 1995, his coaching record stood at 328 victories and with the playoffs included; it was 347 victories. At the time, no one thought that record would ever be broken. This is until the current New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was hired in 2000 and formed dynasties by having Tom Brady as a quarterback, creating dream teams, appearing in nine Super Bowls and winning six of them.
However, the Patriots can say they were a near, perfect season. During their 2007 campaign they went 16-0 in the regular season, and 18-0 with victories in the AFC Divisional Round and AFC Championship. The only game left was the most crucial, Super Bowl XLII in Glendale, AZ. Despite a hard-fought game, they fell just shy of going 19-0 after the Giants fought back in the fourth quarter. A jaw-dropping scramble to avoid a sack by former Giants quarterback Eli Manning led to the miraculous “Helmet Catch” by former Giants wide receiver David Tyree to set up the game-winning drive by another former Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress. Tyree struggled to catch anything during their week of training before the Super Bowl as well.
Getting back on track, Belichick hasn’t retired, and he has a long, but likely shot at breaking Shula’s coaching record. However, it could take nearly an estimated four or five more years, depending on how he coaches the Patriots these next few years, minus star players such as quarterback Tom Brady who was also part of the major success of the team. Brady signed a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in March.
In all certainty, history has shown that Shula’s record has proved to be extremely hard to break, even it’s the 2007 Patriots who were one game shy of taking the crown. What makes it so hard to break? Possibly the difference in how the game is played. Back then, the NFL had different rules and regulations, so it was likely easier to be a perfect team than now. As of today, the league continues to change or conceive new rules to make the game both enjoyable and safer. Also, the play calling was much different and not as complicated as it is now, even though they’ve carried it.
In 1969, a year before Shula started coaching, Hall of Fame head coach Bill Walsh redesigned the West Coast offense by making it easier on quarterbacks and their arm strength. Instead of taxing the quarterback so much, running backs or tight ends were plugged in to run on short passes to eventually have the opposing defense spread out enough for a deep pass when needed. This was brought into light and teams were more than likely high on that new system just like they are today.
All the things mentioned have significant roles and parts into what became a perfect season for Shula and the 1972 Dolphins and all the Dolphins teams he coached in his 25-year career. This is an example of greatness.